Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan, and at 7,570 meters, it is the 40th highest peak in the world. As surprising as it may sound, Gangkhar Puensum still remains unclimbed, especially when most peaks in the Himalaya have already been scaled decades ago.
Gangkhar Puensum lies on the border of Bhutan and Tibet, although the exact boundary line is disputed. Chinese maps put the peak squarely on the border whereas other sources put it wholly in Bhutan. When the mountain was first mapped and surveyed in 1922, maps of the region were shockingly inaccurate. Until very recently, maps of the region showed the mountain at different locations and marked with different heights. In fact, one of the first team to attempt the summit was unable to find the mountain at all.
Bhutan opened itself up to mountaineering only in 1983, as they believed that towering mountains were the dwelling of spirits. When Bhutan finally opened its doors to mountaineering, a series of expeditions were organized. Between 1985 and 1986, four attempts were made, but all ended in failure. The decision to allow mountaineering as a commercial pursuit didn’t last long. In 1994, the government forbade climbing of mountains higher than 6,000 metres out of respect for local spiritual beliefs, and since 2004 mountaineering in the country has been banned completely.
In 1998, a Japanese expedition acquired permission from the Chinese Mountaineering Association to climb Gangkhar Puensum north of Bhutan from the Tibetan side. But a longstanding border dispute with Bhutan, finally caused the permit to be revoked. Instead, the expedition settled for a previously unclimbed 7,535-meter subsidiary peak of Gangkhar Puensum called Gangkhar Puensum North, also known as Liankang Kangri. Notes taken by the team suggested that the expedition to the main summit would have been successful if allowed. Curiously, unlike other maps the expedition's report shows Gangkhar Puensum as being in Tibet, rather than Bhutan, and the Tibet–Bhutan border is shown crossing the summit.
Bhutan itself has not surveyed the peak yet, and it appears that the country has no interest in doing it any time soon. With the difficulty of securing permits from the government as well as lack of rescue support, it seems that the mountain will likely remain unclimbed for the foreseeable future.
The location of Gangkhar Puensum shown by the marker “A” on the Bhutan-Tibet border.
Gangkhar Puensum from Ura valley, Bhutan. Photo credit
The approach to Gangkhar Puensum. Photo credit
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